becoming a church of irresistible influence (6)

Some people I’ve been chatting with about this issue of proactively bridging the gulf between the church and the community have been struck by the way it seems to reverse a something we’ve all had drummed into us. We’ve been told to try and trim non-missional programmes and minstries from our church ‘portfolios’. Like old, crusty donated furniture ministries have a way of hanging around well after their Used By date is past. (Think of the proverbial ‘mothers group’ consisting of septuagenerians.)

But it sounds like I’m talking about starting new programmes. Is this going to leave the church of the future with unwanted and irrelevant ministry ‘black-holes’?

I reckon we should learn to treat any ‘community connecting’ programmes we launch as experiments (Ah! I always knew that science degree would come in handy). Because like in good lab work we need to be both creative and critical.


In the lab, a good hypothesis explains the available evidence and makes predictions. Yet it’s a risky business. You do have to give a new hypothesis a good run — e.g., allowing that what looks like counter-evidence early on might have a good explanation once the hypothesis is more firmly established. But you also have to be honest (and robust) enough to concede that your hypothesis may have been falsified when the evidence stacks up against it. You have to be prepared for the experiment to fail.

In the same way I think we need to learn how to promote a culture of risk-taking as well as encouraging honest feedback. We’ll need to try new things if we’re to becoming a church of irresistible influence. But if something you try doesn’t work (or if what you’re already doing stops working), then admit it, celebrate your successes and wrap it up.

Of course, we’re not good at this in the church or the wider culture. We’re unaccustomed to being both creative and critical. What’s more it’s really hard to treat a ministry or programme you’ve started like a science experiment! Rightly, it means more to us than a mere hypothesis.

So, can you help? How do we do both?

Let’s pool our imaginative resources, and generate a list of a possible ways to foster both creativity and constructive criticism.


  1. Another problem with the whole programmes thing is who will run them?

    And how many programmes can a small church run? We need to be wary of over-burdening people with lots and lots of programmes. Lots of churches struggle to find enough people to run a Sunday School, without even talking about soup kitchens, drop in centres, mothers groups, etc etc.

    This of course doesn’t mean well thought out and experimental programmes should not be run.

    But it the mega-church does start to sound attractive!

    1. Mate, I agree. I want to see this stuff bubbling up in a grass roots kind of way not being imposed and mandated as additional burdensome responsibilities.

      But can I refer you back to an earlier (and — in my opinion — much underrated) post in this series. I’m gradually coming to see that there’s need for a combination between the bottom up, grass roots stuff and top down strategies like permission-giving, provision of resources and gospel proclamation (‘preaching it up’).

      It’s not about mandating so much as ‘fanning the flames’ of fires that are already burning.

  2. I don’t think my concern is so much about “top down”, “bubbling up”, or “mandating”, so much as just raising the issue of people being overburdened.

    This can happen with either approach. Of course, both approaches also have ways of dealing with it. And you’ve raised some ways of dealing with it (such as cutting programmes for a variety of reasons).

    People have a tendency to enthusiastically take on lots of things, and run themselves at 110%. Which can leave them not committing enough time to other relationships in the world – work, neighbours, family, friends etc.

    I’m just raising the concern – nothing more 🙂

    Often being aware of the problem can be a solution in and of itself.

    1. Thanks mate,

      That’s very helpful. I appreciate how aware you are and plugged in to how people are travelling at church in terms of responsibility.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s